Belgium's prime minister announced Wednesday she was lifting the nation's mandatory outdoor mask requirement and easing other COVID-19-related restrictions, despite recent surges in new virus cases in the nation.
At a news conference Wednesday, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes told reporters that beginning October 1, Belgians no longer will be required to wear a mask outdoors, except in crowded places where social distancing cannot be practiced.
Wilmes said wearing a mask has become part of people's daily lives and remains a very important part of fighting the spread of COVID-19.
But, she said, "We have to acknowledge that it is useless to impose it everywhere, every time."
Belgium's mask requirement had been among the strictest in the world.
Masks will still have to be worn in shops and theaters, and on public transit and crowded streets.
The prime minister also announced that people who have had contact with an infected person would only have to quarantine for seven days, down from 14. She said under those circumstances, people must still get tested immediately.
"If the test is positive, then you have COVID-19. Isolation continues," she said. "If the test is negative, then as soon as your clinical situation allows it, you can stop isolating."
Public events can still be attended by 200 people indoors and 400 outside. Belgians will still be able to see up to five people without social distancing, although that could be cut to one, depending on the health situation.
The easing of restrictions comes as other European nations such as Britain, France and Spain are seeing COVID-19 surges and are imposing new restrictions.
Belgium, a country of about 11.5 million people, recorded an average of 1,374 new infections per day over the past week. In early July, there were about 80 a day. Its COVID-19 death total of 9,955 is one the world's highest per capita.